"I told you, 'World Class Organization'" (Photo by Meredith Qualls)
Hockey fans are in a love-hate relationship with ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports. ESPN has long been teh standard bearer for pro sports on cable television, and their station is most associated with sports coverage on television through SportsCenter, Pardon the Interruption, Outside the Lines, etc..
But ESPN hasn't been in love with the NHL or hockey in general for a very long time. I post this on the anniversary of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy which didn't cause a blip on the ESPN sports news radar at the time. Between that and other slights over the years, certain fans (myself included) have fallen out of love with the network.
That being said, ESPN released a "Ultimate Sports Rankings" today which measured every and all professional sport against each other. This is the 10th time this has been done, and while I find some of these rankings subjective at best...The Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves ranked 7th on the list.
Now, before you get excited with the findings, I'd like to note that there is only one NHL franchise besides the Lightning ranked within the top 10, with the Phoenix Coyotes ranked 6th. There are only four total NHL clubs ranked in the top 15 - with the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators joining the 'Yotes and Bolts. All four of these clubs do not exactly register as standard bearers in this league... Though New Jersey comes close (...with an empty building).
The club's rankings are generally high but mixed - They are ranked 27th overall in the "Bang for the Buck" category, and are ranked 24th in the "Players" category which measures effort on field and likability of players. Don't get in a huff over this, we all like who is playing for "our" team (in most instances). Tampa Bay is also ranked 23rd in Title Track Record... That measures championships by the club and the track to win again in the lifetime of the fans.
With three rankings in the 20's, that's gotta be offset by something, right? It is: Fan Relations has the Bolts ranked 4th overall (kudos to Tod Leiweke and staff) while the club is ranked 9th in affordability. Ownership is ranked 14th overall in professional sports (stand up and take a bow, Mr. Vinik, sir!) while coaching is ranked 18th (I don't think you bow, Mr. Yzerman... And I'm curius on how you would react to that news, Mr. Boucher).
All in all, this ranking can be seen as a positive step in Jeff Vinik's desire for a "World Class Organization". Repeating the feat is how to prove that title has been accomplished.
One last note: The Tampa Bay Rays are ranked 25th on this list, understandably... All while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ranked an unremarkable 97th.